Review Summary: Disco, house and pop combined into something unexpectedly forward-thinking that the world is just now almost catching up with.
There’s often a bit of a disconnect between a longtime listener attempting to convince someone to hear an album for the first time. It’s often difficult to convey the feelings and insights a release gives a listener. Many albums are merely collections of songs, whether intentionally or not. On the other hand, many albums, particularly more challenging or experimental releases, are obviously meant as a solitary whole. Either of these are easy enough to express to a music fan - “Just listen to the first couple songs.” “You have to hear it all together.” Most of the best albums find a sweet spot in between. Unfortunately, this can create the aforementioned disconnect. If a listener absorbs an album expecting particularly good songs, and not consuming the album as a whole, they can’t properly appreciate the cohesion, the mood, the flow, or the story. Discovery
is a classic example of this kind of album. It’s an amazing piece that often gets disregarded to “good” or “decent” status because most of its tracks work well enough as stand-alone songs, and the listener can’t realize they have to back up to see the mosaic the songs paint. When it first came out, critics saw a respected, if slightly abnormal, pair of house producers attempt to join the mainstream. (It worked, in case you were curious - the album has sold almost three million copies.) The current electronic music scene was stuck in a bit of a rut. Minus Since I Left You
, (The Avalanches) You’ve Come A Long Way Baby
, (Fatboy Slim) and Remedy
(Basement Jaxx) there hadn’t been very many particularly good “fun” albums yet. The electronic scene was critically dominated by artists like Bjork, Aphex Twin, and Portishead, who, while intriguing and innovative in their own right, were certainly not fun
. This is a big part of what makes Discovery
such an astounding album. Daft Punk created one of the most fun, accessible, and inspirational electronic albums ever, combining the relatively stale genre of house (which they had already played out in their debut, Homework
) with accessible pop and the bouncy genre most people hoped time would forget - disco. As such, when it came out, critics disagreed about it, many previous fans disliked it, and nobody really knew what to think. There hadn’t been an album like Discovery before - and fourteen years later, there still hasn’t been one.
Even though it works much better as a whole, most of the songs on Discovery
work on their own, as distinct, if repetitive, individuals. Starting off the album is the impeccable pop standard, “One More Time.” It’s hard to understate just how good “One More Time” really is. It blurs lines between verse, build and hook, and all of it is pure ecstasy. Any other artist who could come up with that great of a hook would have likely spoiled it by playing it through the entire song (see Tiger & Woods). But Daft Punk smartly decide to cool it down midway through, setting the stage for buildup/drop anthems before they were cool, let alone as stale as they are now. They aren’t settled with this pattern, however - a lesson that hundreds of sprouting producers could learn. Instead, they choose to use the next song, which could have easily been another radio hit, as an incredibly satisfying breakdown for “One More Time.” Immediately following that is the first Daft Punk song to actually include a lyrical story of some sort, “Digital Love,” a synth-laden anthem that cheerfully captures the feeling of lost dreams. Following this, “Harder Better Faster Stronger” breaks it down once again - but this time, it does so in a stand-alone song, composed of basslines, build-ups and possibly the best use of a vocoder ever. By the end of the first third of the album, they’ve seemingly made their mission clear - this is almost not even a house album anymore.
Fortunately, that isn’t the case. Daft Punk seemed to realize that their talent for endless hooks and four-on-the-floor beats shouldn’t go wasted. “Crescendolls,” “High Life” and “Superheroes” all heavily rely on funk samples with house-style basslines and excellently timed breaks. Despite the songwriting skills required to tie the samples to the other layers of the song, many are eager to claim these samples as a clear sign of inferior musical ability. There is some truth to that theory - there are many artists who take an aged dance sample, apply a liberal supply of modern production and call it a new piece. But this isn’t how Daft Punk work. The sampling on this album is, for the most part, wholeheartedly original, rivaling other plunderphonics masters like The Avalanches or DJ Shadow. If you hadn’t heard the original song, you almost certainly wouldn’t realize that Discovery
uses so many samples, and in some cases, not even then. “High Life,” for example, takes lone syllables from various segments of Taveres’ “Break Down For Love” into a naturally flowing call that sounds like a cheerier Hopelandic. The samples on Discovery
are so extensively modified and often obscure that many are still being searched for to this day.
Even after the burst of energy the middle third of the album provides, Discovery just keeps going. It mixes up the style quite a bit yet again, with some very necessary slower songs - “Something About Us,” “Voyager,” “Veridis Quo,” all of which are beautiful, underappreciated pieces that help the album’s cohesion significantly - and then moves on to the high energy “Short Circuit,” which soon suddenly breaks off into a haunting, tired rhythm. Finally, at the end of the album, “Face to Face” and “Too Long” tie back together, respectively, the pop and the house of the first two thirds of the album. At this ending point, the listener has heard an entire hour of music. Impressively, it hasn’t overstayed it’s welcome.
showcases Daft Punk’s brilliant sense of timing and variety better than anything else they’ve released. The duo understands exactly how long they can tease the listener for maximum anticipation - and then they know exactly how to fulfill those nearly impossible expectations. This method is used both in individual songs and in the album as a whole. "Aerodynamic," for example, seamlessly transitions between pounding basslines, waving background chords, and a ringing bell. And Discovery
flows back and forth from pop to house to disco, in the process creating an album with some of each and a bit of something all of it's own that has never been duplicated.
Part of this singularity is due to the album's mood. Sure, there have been quite a few great EDM albums released after and before Discovery
, but none of them are as boundlessly fun, creative and honest as the latter. Butter
(Hudson Mohawke) captures all of the spontaneity, but little of the flow and humanity. Worlds
(Porter Robinson) captures all of the influence and emotion, but loses the variety and honesty. Even Random Access Memories
, by Daft Punk themselves, doesn't quite understand that what makes Discovery
so great is the way it combines technology with humanity, dance with emotion, fun with rest, and inspiration with creativity - things that naturally meld together in reality, making it all the more beautiful. It mixes up the awkward spontaneity of a high school dance, the hilarious conversation with someone you’ll never see again, the sudden exhaustion of much too long of a day, the love on first sight, the stupid optimism of a few too many drinks, the conquering of the local world, the ten seconds of fame, the raw release of a voice at a karaoke night, and the wish that life could always be like this. It’s essentially every Friday night you’ve ever had.
As such a great album, naturally it has influenced many new artists. It can be heard on hip-hop releases such as Kanye West's Graduation
and Gorillaz' Demon Days
, largely because it helped reincarnate sampling into something modern. More obvious is its influence on the electronic music scene - influencing artists from Rustie to Lemaitre to Anamanaguchi to Madeon, among countless others. Many artists were inspired to create music primarily from hearing this. If any one album is responsible for the overall sound and success of the new bedroom producer generation, it’s Discovery
. In it, Daft Punk made an album that predicted the slow rebirth of disco, presented both French and Japanese styles as cool, and made EDM fun, all years before any of those were accepted as fashionable. Now, in 2015, all of those trends are being or have been played out, and yet nobody has managed to duplicate the original.
is something special in music. It's a truly entertaining stand-alone piece, even apart from Interstella 5555. It's something you can play at a party or by yourself and evoke the same blissful emotions. It has transformed electronic music and continues to influence many artists. It takes a wide range of ideas and styles and mixes them all into something all of its own. It steals your breath, gives it back so you can remember how it feels, and then takes it away again. It’s the soundtrack of a great day. No album can actually make
someone happy, but Discovery
does a pretty good job of tricking you into it.